The past two years have been a memorable time for turtles at Parks Canada. From protecting turtle nests to releasing young turtles into the wild, staff had their hands full with these important (and never hasty) reptiles.

But we need to move fast to help this ancient group of animals. “Turtles are among the most threatened of the major groups of vertebrates,” writes biologist Jeffrey Lovich and his co-authors in the journal BioScience.

1. Rouge: young turtles gone wild

Close up of a small turtle with a yellow throat.
Young Blanding’s turtle

In June 2019, 48 young Blanding’s turtles were released into a wetland in Ontario’s Rouge National Urban Park. The turtles had been raised for two years, safe from predators, at the Toronto Zoo.

This long-lived turtle species, with a life span of up to 80 years, has inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years. But before 2014, the species’ future was uncertain. As few as seven Blanding’s turtles remained in Rouge.

This is the sixth year that baby Blanding’s turtles have been released into Rouge. The program has now reintroduced hundreds of young turtles.

More about the “head start” program for turtles at Rouge National Urban Park

2. Bruce Peninsula:“Neighbourhood Watch” for turtles

A snapping turtle in pebbly soil.
Snapping turtle at Bruce Peninsula National Park

At Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula National Park, the “Turtle Trackers” citizen science program helps make the world safe for young turtles.

“Turtle Trackers” is part of the park’s “On the Road to Recovery” project.

In the spring, volunteers look for nesting turtles at hotspots throughout the park. When a nesting turtle is found, volunteers install a protective box overtop the nest. The box keeps the eggs safe from predators such as raccoons and skunks.

From late August to September, the Turtle Trackers remove the boxes and help the baby turtles make it to suitable habitat.

More about the Road to Recovery program at Bruce Peninsula National Park

Video: watch baby snapping turtles emerge at Bruce Peninsula National Park

3. Chambly: from the fast lane to the slow

Small snapping turtle held in the palm.
Young snapping turtle

Managers of national parks, historic sites and canals face a real balancing act: how do they welcome people to their sites while protecting the resident plants and animals?

In the summer of 2018, Quebec’s Chambly Canal National Historic Site came up against just such a challenge. A visitor alerted Parks staff that a mother snapping turtle was laying her eggs under a guardrail near a busy, high-traffic area.

Parks Canada staff constructed a wire cage resembling a pen to protect the eggs. Then they kept watch… for over two months.

Finally, one hot Sunday in August, some tiny, barely audible cracking noises could be heard...

More about the snapping turtles at Chambly Canal National Historic Site

4. Kouchibouguac: helping turtles cross the road

A metal section across a road marking an underground tunnel.
Eco-passageway at Kouchibouguac

Roads are an ever-present danger for many animals, but especially reptiles and amphibians.

A few years ago, Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick constructed four eco-passageways on route 117 in the park. Two of these are small, designed for frogs, salamanders and other amphibians. Two others are much larger and can accommodate wood turtles and snapping turtles.

But the turtles are not the only animals who benefit from the passageways: skunks, mice and even a bear have been photographed using them.

Video: Amphibian crossings at Kouchibouguac

5. Kejimkujik: turtle nation

Close-up of a Blandings turtle
Blanding's turtle hatchling

Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik National Park is the richest area for turtles in Atlantic Canada. Luckily for the turtles, it is also rich in volunteers.

The year 2018 marked 30 years of nest protection for Blanding’s turtles in “Keji.” This work has become more and more volunteer-based over the decades.

Researchers and volunteers who work with these long-lived reptiles have to wait years to see their recovery efforts pay off. Females take about 20 years to mature and begin adding to the population—clearly an important factor in saving a species.

Over the past two years, volunteers have observed three first-time nesters in “Keji.” To add to the excitement, one of the new nesters was hatched from a protected nest herself—and is the first female born from a protected nest to lay eggs.

Volunteer opportunities at Kejimkujik National Park